01/24/2012 04:51 pm ET

Newt Gingrich Health Policy Company Worked Mostly On State Level, Consultant Says

WASHINGTON -- The consultant Newt Gingrich hired to advise his health policy company on how to avoid registering its employees and executives as lobbyists said that Gingrich's primary goal was to avoid being listed at the state level.

"I went over to his group on K Street, in a conference room, and with Power Points and materials I did a training program for his staff on what lobbying -- the various state and federal requirements -- where the lines are drawn," said Thomas Susman, who is now the top lobbyist for the American Bar Association. "It's mainly the state level that he wanted to avoid having to register ... Most of his work was at the state level."

Gingrich hired Susman, who at the time practiced legislative and regulatory law with the firm Ropes & Gray, during the summer of 2000. The two were introduced by former Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), who had been a conservative ally of former House Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.) in Congress and sat on the board of the American League of Lobbyists with Susman. Susman is a Democrat who'd worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Gingrich first indicated that he had hired Susman during Monday's GOP debate, after Mitt Romney accused him of effectively lobbying for Freddie Mac and for his health care company, despite not being registered.

Romney charged that taking money from pharmaceutical and health insurance companies, and then advocating for a position that would benefit those companies, constitutes lobbying regardless of whether Gingrich officially registered.

"I think it's pretty clear to say that I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying. In fact, we brought in an expert on lobbying law and trained all of our staff -- and the expert is prepared to testify that he was brought in to say, here is the bright line between what you can do as a citizen and what you do as a lobbyist. For 12 years consistently running four small businesses, we stayed away from lobbying precisely because I thought this kind of defamatory and factually false charge would be made," Gingrich said.

Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation takes money from "big drug makers such as AstraZeneca PLC and top insurers, such as BlueCross BlueShield Association, who pay as much as $200,000 in membership fees," the Wall Street Journal reported last year.

In order to identify the consultant, HuffPost reached out to the Gingrich campaign, which referred the inquiry to the Center for Health Transformation, which then furnished Susman's identity.

Susman said he was not briefed on the substance of the work done by Gingrich and his group. "What they're consulting on, advising on, influencing on, whatever that was, the information I was given was about process," Susman said. "How many times do you have to talk to a legislator in X state before you're a lobbyist, or what's their threshold for having to register in state."

Susman said that at the time he was briefing Gingrich there were fewer such policy advocates as interested in avoiding the scarlet "L."

He credits Gingrich with foresight. "It was kind of interesting because back in 2000, being a registered lobbyist didn't have near the opprobrium it gained really since 2007," said Susman. "But even as far back as 2000, Mr. Gingrich didn't want to have to be a registered lobbyist in any jurisdiction."

Lobbying scandals involving Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff raised the profile of the influence industry. In 2009, President Obama barred lobbyists from holding positions in the White House (though he has allowed some exceptions).

"I do believe that when I was advising [Gingrich] he followed my advice," Susman said. "I don't believe he had the federal contract, the Freddie Mac contract, until more recent years."

Gingrich was first employed by the federally funded mortgage giant Freddie Mac from 1999 to 2002. The Center for Health Transformation released his second contract with Freddie Mac, from 2006, on Monday, but says it could not find the 1999 document.

Gingrich was initially hired by the company's top lobbyist, Mitchell Delk, and was paid a $25,000 monthly retainer.

The former speaker has repeatedly said he has never lobbied, instead referring to his work with Freddie Mac as that of a "historian." At a November debate, Gingrich said, "every contract that was written during the period when I was out of the office specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice."

Susman said he can't speak to the Freddie contract.

"I have no idea what he did for that," he said, "but I think he knew what the law required, and I have no reason to believe that he didn't continue to color within the lines."